Like any high-profile elected office, the role of Assembly speaker can be bully pulpit. In recent years, speakers have carried major, controversial legislation to deregulate the cable television industry, decertify a so-called corrupt city and establish college scholarships for middle class students.
It’s still early of course, but we haven’t yet seen that kind of ambition from San Diego’s Toni Atkins.
More than a month into the bill introduction period, the speaker has introduced a bill to designate the Department of Housing and Community Development as the state agency responsible for administering certain federal funds, a second one to better regulate the sale of ivory and has promised to introduce a bill that would streamline laws impacting San Diego’s Tuna Harbor Dockside Market. That’s it.
Now, the job of speaker is a busy one. Atkins has a lot on her plate. A lot. But she’s also been speaker since last May, and this is her first chance since then to introduce legislation as the most powerful lawmaker in her house. By virtue of her stature, she has the ability to push through (the Assembly at least) just about anything.
So why haven’t we seen more from Atkins? Because of her ego — or, rather, lack thereof.
“She doesn’t need to have her name on everything,” Atkins aide John Casey said. “That’s not her personality.”
Indeed, Casey said that Atkins promised when she was elected speaker to ensure that the Assembly would be run smoothly and efficiently, and that has been her focus. The speaker, of course, has her hands in many bills — all of them do — but Casey said Atkins thinks it’s better that her colleagues get the public credit for the bills.
That said, expect Atkins to come out sometime this year with a significant bill on affordable housing, a topic close to her heart, Casey said, but one that might not register on the political hype-meter as Major Legislation.
“If she can get something done on that,” he said, “she’ll be happy.”
Lorena Gonzalez, Trendsetter
“Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave,” President Barack Obama urged Congress in his State of the Union address Tuesday. Within moments, San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez was getting congratulations on Twitter for being ahead of the game with last year’s Assembly Bill 1522, which granted three days of paid sick leave to California workers.
The assemblywoman was quick to capitalize on her star turn, issuing a press release within minutes. “As a working Mom, being able to take a day off to care for my children when they’re sick is one of the most important benefits I’ve ever had at work. Paid sick leave is a commonsense, pro-family policy whose time should’ve come long ago, which is why I was so proud to author the California law that extended that benefit to 6.5 million additional families last year,” she said in the statement.
Gonzalez has written another sick leave bill this year, which would extend the benefit to in-home supportive services caregivers. With the issue’s newfound attention, Gonzalez could ride this a long, long way.
San Diego in State News
• More on the speaker’s Dockside Market bill. (U-T)
• Atkins appears to be eyeing a state Senate seat. (U-T)
• RIP, Pete Chacon, former San Diego state lawmaker. (L.A. Times)
• San Diego’s community college presidents are hopeful about the governor’s budget proposal. (U-T)
• Thanks to budget cuts, the Superior Court of San Diego is offering fewer services to customers. (U-T)
• Sarah Boot, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council last year, will run for Atkins’ Assembly seat when the speaker is termed out in 2016. She already has Atkins’ support. (KPBS)
• Keep your eyes peeled for news from the Assembly’s new privacy committee. (L.A. Times)
• Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano are trying to work out their differences. (San Jose Mercury News)
• Attorney General Kamala Harris is hoping to keep Tom Steyer out of the race for U.S. Senate. (S.F. Chronicle)
• Senate Democrats are heading to a policy retreat to hear from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. (L.A. Times)
• Two Democratic state senators propose “right to die” legislation. (Oakland Tribune)
• Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget gives the state parks system a short window to fix its problems. (Capitol Public Radio)
• The administration is sponsoring a bill to streamline the approval process of toll lanes. (Sac Business Journal)
Prediction: If you’re sick of hearing about the jostling for Barbara Boxer’s soon-to-be open Senate seat, I have some bad news for you: there’s going to be a lot more attention on the race in coming weeks. And it will just be crazier if someone with Tom Steyer’s kind of wealth enters the fray.